Malawi Reading Material

Peace Corps Volunteers should receive honorary English degrees from the extensive array of books they read during service. “Downtime” is plentiful with no TV or internet – reading and writing are your options for distractions.  Both served as a respite from the uncertainty of my role in the community, my frustrations about the effectiveness of international development and aid, and boredom of PC life. Writing as therapy, books as an escape.  I pounded out 111 books in the time I was there, some I remember clearly, some I don’t remember at all.

I tracked all the books I read during the two years which act as kind of a literary timeline of my experience.  I sat in my family’s mud hut during my first days in-country reading Gabriel Garcia Marquez wondering what the hell I got myself into.  I avoided books about Africa after I read Paul Theroux’s Dark Star Safari: From Cairo to Cape Town about half-way through my service where he described his disappointment with the lack of improvements since he was a volunteer in the sixties.  His views only exacerbated my cynicism and anger around the millions of dollars in aid and development money that had been pumped into the country since independence.  During a minibus ride up to the northern capital, Mzuzu to meet up with my then-boyfriend, I read Wobegon Boy by Garrison Keillor.  His description of rural mid-western life contrasted the dry, dusty African countryside sprinkled with mud huts.

So, for your perusal, here is the list that was my literary journey between June 2004 and July 2006.

My favorite book, Jitterbug Perfume
My favorite book, Jitterbug Perfume

The 111 Books:

1. Strange Pilgrims – Gabriel Garcia Marquez

2. Of Love and Other Demons – Gabriel Garcia Marquez

3. The Author Book of Modern African Stories – Ed. Wadezda Obradovic

4. A Heartbreaking Work of a Staggering Genius – David Eggers

5. High Maintenance – Jennifer Belle

6. The Corrections – Jonathan Franzen

7. Straight Man – Richard Russo

8. Naked – David Sedaris

9. The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency – Alexander McCall Smith

10. Barrel Fever – David Sedaris

11. The Poisonwood Bible – Barbara Kingsolver

12. Under the Tuscan Sun – Frances Mayes

13. Deadeye Dick – Kurt Vonnegut

14. A Confederacy of Dunces – John Kennedy Toole

15. The Blind Assassin – Margaret Atwood

16. The Love Ranger and Tonto Fist Fight in Heaven – Sherman Alexie

17. Downzie This! – Michael Moore

18. The Cider House Rules – John Irving

19. Where the Heart Is – Billie Letts

20. Even Cowgirls Get the Blues – Tom Robbins

21. The Best American Short Stories 2002

22. Love in the Time of Cholera – Gabriel Garcia Marquez

23. The Chronicles of Narnia – C.S. Lewis

24. Stories from the River – Ursula Hegi

25. Cowboy Crescendo – Cathleen Galitz (this was a romance novel sent to me by a friend :))

26. Frankenstein – Mary Shelley

27. Harry Potter & the Prisoner of Azkaban – J.K. Rowling

28. The River King – Alice Hoffman

29. Out of the Silent Planet – C.S. Lewis

30. The Reivers – William Faulkner

31. The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down – Anne Fadiman

32. Sometimes a Great Notion – Ken Kesey

33. Angels and Demons – Dan Brown

34. The DaVinci Code – Dan Brown

35. Oliver Twist – Charles Dickens

36. The Power of One – Bryce Courtenay

37. Harry Potter & the Sorcerer’s Stone – J.K. Rowling

38. Cat’s Cradle – Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.

39. Dark Star Safari: From Cairo to Cape Town – Paul Theroux

40. Harry Potter & the Goblet of Fire – J.K. Rowling

41. I’m a Stranger Here Myself – Bill Bryson

42. Cross Dressing – Bill Fitzhugh

43. Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers – J.R.R. Tolkien

44. Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King – J.R.R. Tolkien

45. Prodigal Summer – Barbara Kingsolver

46. Pigs in Heaven – Barbara Kingsolver

47. Jitterbug Perfume – Tom Robbins

48. Empire Falls – Richard Russo

49. Jemima J – Jane Green

50. Daughter of Fortune – Isabel Allende

51. Mango Elephants in the Sun – Susana Herrera

52. In a Sunburned Country – Bill Bryson

53. Wobegon Boy – Garrison Keillor

54. Notes from a Small Island – Bill Bryson

55. The Golden Compass – Philip Pullman

56. Ten Little Indians – Sherman Alexie

57. Pride and Prejudice – Jane Austen

58. The Subtle Knife – Philip Pullman

59. The Sisterhood and the Traveling Pants – Ann Brashares

60. In the Eye of the Sun – Ahdaf Soueif

61. Believers (a novella and stories) – Charles Baxter

62. A Recipe for Bees – Gail Anderson-Dergatz

63. Mists of Avalon – Marion Zimmer Bradley

64. His Dark Materials: The Amber Spyglass – Philip Pullman

65. Animal Dreams – Barbara Kingsolver

66. Hello, Darkness – Sandra Brown

67. Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim – David Sedaris

68. The 5 People You Meet in Heaven – Mitch Albom

69. The Best American Travel Writing 2000

70. The Brothers K – David James Duncan

71. The Heart is a Lonely Hunter – Carson McCullers

72. Harry Potter & the Order of the Phoenix – J.K. Rowling

73. THe Bell Jar – Sylvia Plath

74. The Orchid Thief – Susan Orlean

75. Harry Potter & the Half Blood Prince – J.K. Rowling

76. A Walk in the Woods – Bill Bryson

77. Blessed are the Cheesemakers – Sarah-Kate Lynch

78. Tears of the Giraffe: The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency (#2) – Alexander McCall Smith

79. Morality for Beautiful Girls: The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency (#3) – Alexander McCall Smith

80. The Kalahari Typing School for Men: The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency (#4) – Alexander McCall Smith

81. Picture Perfect – Jodi Picoult

82. Songs of the Humpback Whale – Jodi Picoult

83. The Sparrow – Mary Doria Russell

84. Hotel Honolulu – Paul Theroux

85. Midwives – Chris Bohjaliam

86. THe Moor’s Last Sigh – Salman Rushdie

87. Hideous Kinky – Esther Freud

88. Three Junes – Julia Glass

89. Another Roadside Attraction – Tom Robbins

90. Anna Karenina – Leo Tolstoy

91. The World According to Garp – John Irving

92. Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason – Helen Fielding

93. Holidays on Ice – David Sedaris

94. Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West – Gregory Maguire

95. Skinny Legs and All – Tom Robbins

96. Lake Wobegon Days – Garrison Keillor

97. Sand in my Bra (and Other Misadventures) – Ed. Jennifer L. Leo

98. The Full Cupboard of Life: The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency #5) – Alexander McCall Smith

99. Don’t Let’s go to the Dogs Tonight – Alexandra Fuller

100. Children of God – Mary Doria Russell

101. The Celestine Prophesy – James Redfield

102. Veronika Decides to Die – Paulo Coelho

103. THe 158-Lb Marriage – John Irving

104. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime – Mark Haddon

105. The Tao of Pooh – Benjamin Hoff

106. The Te of Piglet – Benjamin Hoff

107. Zenzele: A Letter for My Daughter – J. Nozipo Marave

108. The Nanny Diaries – Nicola Kraus & Emma McLaughlin

109. The House of the Spirits – Isabel Allende

110. My Sister’s Keeper – Jodi Picoult

111. The Time Traveler’s Wife – Audrey Niffenegger

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6 Comments Add yours

  1. cellenbogen says:

    What was your source for the books?

    1. Elizabeth D says:

      We had a library in the transit house where PCVs stayed in the capital and the other larger towns. Also, we did a lot of exchanging amongst PCVs of the highly coveted books (e.g. the newest Harry Potter book)

  2. copelaf says:

    This is an impressive list Elizabeth! Our newest group of PCTs to arrive in Ethiopia will be given kindles instead of the mountain of PC manuals and publications. Also there is a file of like 10,000 books floating around on portable hard drives. Times have changed!

    1. Elizabeth D says:

      Wow, times HAVE changed. Where do people charge them? Do most people have electricity at site? Since I haven’t moved over to e-readers even here, I think I’d miss the actual books 🙂

  3. Anne Chia says:

    ” I avoided books about Africa after I read Paul Theroux’s Dark Star Safari: From Cairo to Cape Town about half-way through my service where he described his disappointment with the lack of improvements since he was a volunteer in the sixties. His views only exacerbated my cynicism and anger around the millions of dollars in aid and development money that had been pumped into the country since independence. ”

    I cant say I blame you for being angry and cynical. International development is really expensive and working in the sector myself, sometimes I wonder if that is the route to go. So many schools of thought; on how overheads are taking the money that should be going to the front line, and how aid is increasing irresponsibility of host governments who then shirk their responsibility, and steal from their treasury leaving ‘aid’ to do the work for them.

    1. Elizabeth D says:

      I think the hardest part was coming back to the States and trying to decide what I wanted to do with my life that involved some of the work I had done in Malawi. It felt that intl dvlpt was the only option. There are so many people working in dvlpt that have a great sense of how it can be done better, but the structure is so large and bureaucratic that change within dvlpt and aid is slow if it even happens at all.

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